February 20, 2019
“…let’s be real, the one [person of color] who is going to say what needs to be said isn’t the one invited into the room in the first place.”—G. B. Saunders, talking about what it’s like to be the one person of color in the workplace.
G.B. Saunders points out that after a racist product hits the shelves, like Gucci’s recent “blackface sweater,” people tend to respond by saying, “There should have been a person of color in the room.” She says it’s important to understand how hard it is for people of color to get into the room in the first place, not to mention how hard it is for them to stay. She explains that people of color often have to avoid making waves in the face of everyday racist attitudes (like the idea that white people are allowing a person of color into the room), but that when a racist product is put forth, the one person of color is expected to call it out. Saunders writes, “It’s crippling and unfair to be expected to risk your livelihood to save racist coworkers from their racism.”
Of course we want companies to be more diverse, but it’s crucial to consider what it feels like to be one of the first few people of color in a predominantly white workplace. As G.B. Saunders says, “Getting in there means suspending your disbelief in a system that has shown you repeatedly that it does not intend to work in your favor.”
This piece brings up the importance of planning beyond just hiring more people of color, to acknowledging the psychological tolls on employees of color, addressing issues like tokenism, and instituting inclusive mentoring and sponsoring programs.
When Walter Thompson-Hernández, who is Chicano, heard that the lowrider culture of his native Southeast Los Angeles had popped up in Japan, he was intrigued but hesitant. He wondered if it was a case of cultural appropriation and booked a flight to Japan to find out. While he did feel uncomfortable about some of what he saw—like a Japanese man who flies to LA to buy gear and brings it back to Japan to sell—he was pleasantly surprised to find that “while most instances of cultural appropriation completely disregard the original communities, the people whom I met did the exact opposite: They are in constant communication with Los Angeles lowrider communities. To me, it was more of a form of cultural exchange.”
It’s heartening to see concrete examples of people respectfully engaging in a culture other than their own. A great example from the article is the work of Night the Funksta, whose illustrations of Chicanx culture aim to highlight authentic aspects of the culture—like the importance of family and community—and avoid common stereotypes about gangs, violence, and drugs.
It’s important to remember that Thompson-Hernández’ conclusion may not be the same as that of other Chicanx people. So while these examples do suggest how to engage with a culture more respectfully, they don’t serve as a “free pass” for appropriating Chicanx culture.
As cycling has gained traction as a safer, more sustainable alternative to cars, many cities are investing in bike lanes and other cycling infrastructure—but in which neighborhoods? Cities tend to add only the “easiest and least safe” forms of cycling infrastructure to lower-income neighborhoods, reserving cycle tracks for higher-income areas. The reality is that most people who bike to work “live in households that earn less than US$10,000 yearly,” and tend to be people of color. Poor infrastructure means that cyclists in lower-income areas face more tickets, risk of collision, and fear of crime. A recent study conducted in Boston suggests that lower-income areas implement “a wide two-way cycle track with freshly painted lines and bike stencils plus arrows, free of oil or litter,” that is well-lit and located along safer routes.
When we consider putting plans for sustainability into action, whether across an entire city or just on campus, it’s important to consider whether everyone can safely and reasonably partake in the benefits. After all, as research scientist Anne Lusk says, “Decisions about public rights-of-way should not be based on how many car owners or how few bicyclists show up at public meetings.”
If you’re in charge of planning campus- or organization-wide programming and initiatives, consider whether your plans are equally accessible to people of all races, classes, genders, and backgrounds.